Past Events

Portraiture, the Album and the Self

Lecture Series – Patrizia Di Bello

  • 28 February 2019
  • 6:30 – 8:30 pm
  • 18.30-19.00 Drinks Reception
    19.00-20.30 Lecture and Discussion
  • Lecture Room, Paul Mellon Centre

Taking and sharing self-portraits on social media has recently been found to cause body dysmorphia and bad mental health amongst teenagers and children. The obsessive sharing of portraits of oneself, however, has a long history going back to the first photographic craze for carte-de-visite portraits in the 1860s. This talk explores the birth of social media in the nineteenth-century, around the exchange of photographic portraits collected into albums. It goes on to look at the changes to the family album brought about by the development of cameras that allowed everyone to take snapshots of oneself, family and friends, to then introduce the work of British photographer Jo Spence in the 1980s, urging us to go ‘Beyond the Family Album’. Her work showed how to become conscious of the role of photographs in perpetuating impossible role models and pernicious stereotypes, and how to use selfportraiture to neutralise and reverse their effects on the self. Could some of her insights also serve to critique and resist the negative effects of contemporary ‘selfie’ culture?

Suggested reading

  • Jo Spence, ‘Visual Autobiography: Beyond the Family Album’, in Putting Myself in the Picture: A Political, Personal and Photographic Autobiography (London: Camden Press, 1986), pp. 82-97.
  • For an introduction to the work of Jo Spence, mainly in her own words:
  • On nineteenth-century albums and other vernacular photographic objects: Geoffrey Batchen, Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance (Princeton and Amsterdam: Princeton Architectural Press and Van Gogh Museum, 2004), especially the section ‘The Murmur of Laughing Voices’, pp. 48-60.
  • For a take on albums emphasising how they constructed as much as recorded identity, and how they functioned as social media: Patrizia Di Bello, ‘Photocollage, Fun and Flirtations’, in Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage, with essays by Elizabeth Siegel, Marta Weiss and Patrizia Di Bello (The Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University Press, 2010), pp. 49-62.